Monday, February 23, 2015

Prepare for a rebuilding year

As Fenway was unrecognizable under more than 6 feet of snow, the Red Sox opened spring training with a sunny optimism that reflected their Florida weather. No matter that the team has no “ace” on the staff or even a starting rotation that any of the Fenway faithful can name. One of the new players, Pablo Sandoval or “Panda,” is expected to be a force in the lineup but has become better known as the player who hasn’t missed too many meals when he showed up for spring training sporting a big bit of a belly. Regardless of the team’s shortcomings — or oversized players — baseball is almost back and we can all be happy to root for a team that has won three World Series in just a little over a decade — even if no one wants to “bell the cat” and call it a rebuilding year.

Back here in frozen Rhode Island, the business community and political circles have been buzzing since the election about success too. Governor Raimondo has been working closely with legislative leaders, has built a strong cabinet and hired well respected staff from all over the country. Unfortunately her press conference last week reminded everyone that Rhode Island remains in dire straits and that tough days are ahead. The message was simple: we have some serious problems and we need to make some tough decisions to reposition ourselves for success. She led the audience through a powerpoint dose of reality. Our economy is lagging: we are 47th in employment and 48th in short and long term growth. We are not successful at educating future workers: 66% of CCRI students require remediation courses. Our budget deficit is growing and we have high costs in Medicaid (2nd highest spending per enrollee in the country) and fire safety (2nd highest fire safety costs in the country). If this was a State of the State address, the state of Rhode Island would be poor.

With the problems identified, we need to acknowledge that we need to rebuild and do things differently than we’ve done before. If we continue to make the same (bad) choices, we’re going to end up with the same bad results. While a governor in Rhode Island has little power with no line item veto and no ability to put a referendum on the ballot, she can use the budget process and the bully pulpit to drive policy. And while I admit that I am a “homer” I think that what she has identified as our core problems are almost indisputable. Right now we have a leader who has proven that’s she’s willing to be unpopular to be successful and so I fully expect that some of the solutions she proposes will not make everyone happy. Red Sox fans surely remember when the “new owners” traded Nomar Garciaparra on July 31, 2004. Was it heartbreaking? Yes. Did it make the team better? Yes. Did the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004? Hell yes.

Let’s face it — it’s a rebuilding year for the Red Sox and for Rhode Island too. Tough days are ahead but hopefully better years will follow.

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